Guns have always been a fascinating topic in America. From who’s using them to what model, make and brand they are, guns have become a staple in our modern society. Now, whether that’s a sad or thrilling fact, we’ve decided to let our readers in on some interesting facts about one of America’s most loved (and hated) assault rifles: the AK-47.
With a new book on the market entitled AK-47: The Story of the People’s Gun, Michael Hodges is an expert on this particular weapon, and we got Hodges to let us in on a few little-known facts about the AK-47 while researching his work.
1- The inventor of the AK-47 did not profit from the gun
Although by some estimates there are 100 million AK-47-style assault rifles in circulation around the world, the gun’s inventor, Mikhail Kalashnikov, did not become rich (unlike Eugene Stoner, the inventor of the American M16 assault rifle, who died a wealthy man). Communist states had no patents, and until its collapse in 1991, Kalashnikov was simply an employee of the Soviet Union. “I invented a weapon to save the motherland, to save the state from fascism,” he said. “My career has been dedicated to my country.”
Despite that country awarding him the Hero of Socialist Labor medal and many other accolades, this particular Socialist hero, who just happened to change the world, started life as an enemy of the Soviet Union. Kalashnikov narrowly escaped being shot by Stalin’s special police after his family was denounced as Kulaks in 1932, and exiled to Siberia. Kalashnikov escaped again when a Panzer shell blew him from his tank in 1941, as the Soviets fought desperately to halt the Nazi advance on Moscow.
2- The AK-47 is the perfect weapon for children
The AK-47 can be stripped in under a minute and cleaned quickly in almost any climatic condition. Even if it isn’t cleaned, an AK-47 is still more likely to fire than any of its rivals given similar treatment on the battlefield. With only eight moving parts the AK-47 is cheap to manufacture and easy to use — so easy in fact that children can be taught how to properly handle this weapon in a single hour. Sudanese child soldier Emmanuel Jal picked up his first AK-47 when he was 9 years old. A fully loaded AK-47 weighs four kilograms: “I don’t know how I lifted the AK when I was tired. It was so heavy,” he remembers. “We only had a few AKs but we weren’t scared, it was like a game with toy guns. When the fighting starts you can put the gun down and run away, or pull the trigger. Once you’ve done that you are hooked; it makes you think that no one can touch you. Once you’ve fired an AK-47 you become brave.”
3- America may have given bin Laden his first AK-47
Since 1998, Osama bin Laden has regularly included an AK-47 in the propaganda videos he releases after terrorist outrages. Consequently, the gun has come to represent the global jihad, and AK-47 is an integral part of the regime at fundamentalist camps, as far apart as the English home counties and the jungles of the Philippines.
These groups and their adherents are dedicated to the destruction of Israel and America — yet it is highly likely that it was Israel and America that inadvertently put an AK-47 into bin Laden’s hands. When the Israel Defense Forces invaded Lebanon in 1982 to “crush” the Palestinian Liberation Organization they captured thousands of AK-47s.These guns found their way, via the CIA and the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence Agency, to the Mujahadeen resisting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It is probable that amongst them would have been the AK-47 that equips bin Laden.
4- The AK-47 is the U.S. army’s most resilient enemy
U.S. forces first came into large-scale contact with the AK-47 during the Vietnam War. Their own M16s malfunctioned in the heat and damp of the jungle, but the Chinese-supplied AK-47s used by the communists continued to fire. Consequently, thousands of GIs picked up AK-47s from fallen Viet Cong guerrillas. This led Americans to open fire on their own side because they presumed the distinctive pop-pop-pop sound of an AK-47 revealed an enemy position. So many GIs threw away their guns in favor of AK-47s that a House of Representatives hearing in 1971 discovered that the U.S. Army attempted to stop the media reporting the phenomenon. Today, nearly 40 years later, in the sand and heat of Iraq, American soldiers are once again giving up their own U.S.-manufactured weapons in favor of the AK-47.
5- The AK-47 is the weapon of choice for U.S. mass murderers
On January 17, 1989, Patrick Purdey walked into the Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California, armed with a Chinese-manufactured AK-47. It was fitted with a barrel magazine holding 75 rounds — both of which he bought legally over a gun-shop counter. When he walked out again five children were dead and 29 were injured. In December 1997, Arturo Reyes Torres entered his former place of work, the Caltrans Maintenance Yard, with an AK-47, killed four and wounded two. There are many more examples of AK-47 murders in the U.S. The online Urban Dictionary defines “Columbine” like so: “The constant bullying of the preppies and jocks has caused him to pick up his AK-47 and go Columbine on everyone.”
Ironically, the Columbine killers did not use AK-47s, but it doesn’t matter; in America gun crime is now perceived as AK crime.
rifle-ing through history
From the killing grounds of Sadr City to the murderous barrios of Bogotá, from the battlefields of Somalia to the ghettos of the United States, the AK-47 dominates the world. Invented by a Russian tank commander at the end of World War II, by rights it should be in the dustbin of history. However, such was the genius of his design that 60 years later — for millions of unfortunate people around the world, and scores of countries wracked by conflict — Mikhail Kalashnikov’s iconic assault rifle is both the present and, tragically, the future.
To learn even more about the AK-47, check out Michael Hodges’ book, AK-47: The Story of the People’s Gun.